Nevada (USA): A statement released from here claims that Hindus are disturbed over distortion of goddess Kali image in Titan Comics and are seeking the withdrawal of all the comics containing such distorted Kali images from the stores and online.
Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, in a statement in Nevada today, described it as highly inappropriate portrayal of goddess Kali and urged public apologies from all those responsible for it, including Titan Comics its parent Titan Publishing.
Titan Comics describing Kali on its website, says: “Kali, oldest and deadliest of these creatures, was thought defeated long, long ago; her body scattered throughout time to prevent her return.”
Zed, who is President of Universal Society of Hinduism, stated that goddess Kali was highly revered in Hinduism and was meant to worshiped in temples or home shrines and not to be thrown around loosely in re-imagined versions for dramatic effects in comics. Such absurd depiction of goddess Kali with no scriptural backing and calling her a “creature” was hurtful to the devotees.
Rajan Zed noted that many actions/characteristics attached to goddess Kali in the Titan Comics were unheard of in mainstream Hinduism. It seemed to be blatant twisting of the facts aimed at mercantile greed and maligning Hinduism in the process, Zed said.
Such trivialization of goddess Kali was offensive to Hindus world over, Zed indicated and urged Titan Comics not to inappropriately and unnecessarily drag Hindu deities to advance the commercial or other agenda in the future.
Rajan Zed stressed that Hindus were for free speech as much as anybody else if not more. But faith was something sacred and attempts at belittling it hurt the devotees. Comics, being one of the very effective mediums, should be more sensitive while handling faith related subjects, Zed argued.
Hindus welcomed entertainment industries to immerse in Hinduism but taking it seriously and respectfully and not just for indecorous showing of Hindu symbols and concepts to advance their selfish agenda. Casual flirting sometimes resulted in pillaging serious spiritual doctrines and revered symbols and hurting the devotees, Zed pointed out.
Rajan Zed further said that Hinduism was the oldest and third largest religion of the world with about one billion adherents and a rich philosophical thought and should not be taken frivolously. No faith, larger or smaller, should be ridiculed at, Zed said and added that if entertainment executives needed any assistance about Hinduism, he or other Hindu scholars would be glad to help.
Goddess Kali, who personifies Shakti or divine energy and considered the goddess of time and change, is widely worshiped in Hinduism. Moksha (liberation) is the ultimate goal of Hinduism.
Titan Comics, headquartered in London, is the comics and graphic novel division of global publishing giant Titan with brands such as James Bond and Sherlock Holmes.
“In the distant past, the land that would be India played host to a war between ancient aliens, whose cross-temporal battles contributed to the country’s rich myths and legends. Kali, oldest and deadliest of these creatures, was thought defeated long, long ago; her body scattered throughout time to prevent her return. But her psychic essence could not be killed… nor her millennia-long quest for vengeance.
“Now, in the 23rd Century, she is on the brink of resurrection. And with India at the forefront of human spaceflight, it’s not only Earth that falls to her predations if she succeeds – but the whole cosmos!
“In a race against time, and across it, the Doctor and Clara must gather secrets, intelligence, and allies from across India’s past, present, and future – if they are to survive… THE SWORDS OF KALI.”
This is the summary of the second story in the Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor comic strip published by the Titan Comics. The story portrays Goddess Kali, one of the most revered mothers in Hinduism as an alien creature who is seeking revenge. The comic appears to have even appropriated the story of Sati and how her body parts were scattered after she burned herself in her father’s Yajna (fire ritual) and distorted it to fit into their story of alien battles.
There is nothing wrong per se with portrayal of Kali or other Hindu Gods and symbols in comics or movies. But, such a portrayal should be true to their meaning and depiction in the source culture. A distorted portrayal not only depicts ignorance and negligence on the part of those who use other culture’s symbols, but when this distortion keeps happening again and again, it points towards deliberate malaise and pre-conceived biases towards certain cultures that are outside the mainstream western culture.
Depiction of Goddess Kali in American entertainment industry
The Titan comics are neither the first nor the only people to portray Mother Kali in a negative as well as incorrect manner. Here are the few examples:
In 1984 “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” movie, Goddess Kali was portrayed as a monster, to whom human sacrifices were given by Thugees. The whole scene is depicted dramatically in such a way that it gives the impression as if Goddess Kali is some kind of evil.
In 2008, Supermodel Heidi Klum dressed as Goddess Kali for a Halloween party. When asked about why she chose to dress like Kali, she said the idea was given to her by her secretary, and she added:”I loved it because she’s so mean and killed all these different people and had fingers hanging off her and little shrunken heads everywhere.” Her statement clearly shows that she considers Kali as a mean people killer, which clearly depicts her lack of understanding of the iconography of Kali.
In 2010, in a famous TV series called “Supernatural”, both Mother Kali and her son Lord Ganesha have been depicted in a very poor light. First, it portrays Goddess Kali as having an affair with Angel Gabriel. Then, it portrays Ganesha as a big fat man who is reduced to a splash of blood by Lucifer, the evil personified in Christian theology. The whole episode makes a mockery of Hindu religion and Hindu deities on multiple counts. It propagates the medieval Christian view that depicts Pagan gods as inferior and powerless compared to even the Christian angels and equates Hindu Gods and Hindu symbols with other pagan systems. The episode not only shows the extent of ignorance present in western society about Hinduism, but also shows the pre-conceived bias they have cultivated.
The 2012 online video action game SMITE allowed players to play as various gods and other characters. The game includes characters from Hindu, Greek, Chinese, Egyptian, and Norse civilizations. The fact that various Gods from Hinduism like Kali, Agni, Rama etc. has been included alongside Gods from Pagan cultures which no longer flourishes, again shows a medieval Christian mentality of rejecting everything non-Christian as pagan and hence inferior and false. This view is further highlighted by the absence of any angels or characters from Christian or other Abrahamic mythologies.
In January this year, Fox’s show “Sleepy Hollow” showed Vetala (a spirit) who has no significant connection with Goddess Kali as being a demon servant of her. It further showed a statue of Kali being used to turn a man into a demon, something which is alien to the understanding of Kali or Vetala or the concept of demon in Hinduism.
These few examples are enough to show the ignorance and the disdain that is shared by many people in the west, especially those who are involved in making movies, TV shows, comic strips etc. and other aspects of the entertainment industry. But, these negative portrayals are not limited to entertainment industry alone. It is present in western academics as well.
Depiction of Kali in Western Academics
Sarah Caldwell, in her article “The Bloodthirsty tongue and the self-fed breast, homosexual fellatio fantasy in a south Indian ritual tradition” which won her the Robert Stoller award, writes:
“This essay demonstrates that in Kerala, symbolism of the fierce goddess [Kali] does not represent abreactions of the primal scene fantasies of a Kleinian phallic mother or introjection of the fathers penis; rather, we will show that themes of eroticism and aggression in the mythology are male transsexual fantasies reflecting intense preoedipal fixation on the mothers body and expressing conflicts over primary feminine identity.”
She further quotes D. M. Wulffs view on the imagery of Goddess Kali: “[Kali] is herself, first of all, a phallic being, the mother with a penis, she stands triumphantly erect on Sivas body, sword raised, fingers pointed, and eyes and tongue protruding. At the same time, draped with severed heads and hands, she is the bloodied image of the castrating and menstruating (thus castrating) female.”
According to them, Mother Kali symbolizes “male transsexual fantasies” and is a “mother with a penis” who depicts a “castrating female.” These depictions are completely alien to Hindu perception of Goddess Kali. The academics seem to have an intention to portray the worship of Kali as a worship of “mother with a penis” just like they often portray the worship of Lord Shiva as a worship of “human phallus” without properly understanding the meaning of “Linga” which has multiple meanings like mark, pillar, phallus etc.
Prof. Dr. Narasingha Sil in his 1996 lecture which has been published here- “The Status of Kali in American Academia” says: “Then, with the advent of the electronic age since the late eighties and the early nineties, the Bengali Kali was sacrificed at the altar of the free-thinking, free-wheeling but utterly benighted computer buffs and has been transformed into a pretty and lusty beast of the East that you are now looking at—a booted but naked woman with markedly Mediterranean features perched on a toilet seat, possessing six hands (any being other than the bimanual human is enough to be regarded as a Hindu deity) holding all the artifices of autoerotism, and actually masturbating with an oversize dildo.
Or we have Kali who resembles a monstrous mutant sci-fi creature with a lolling tongue or, partially true to some indigenous iconography, an excessively passionate female in rut or animal heat on top of the ethyphallus Mahadeva, the Great God (another appellation of Siva) in a posture of viparitarati [reverse sex].”
Dr. Sil further quotes a few poems on Kali taken from the internet. One poem runs like this:
“Kali is a slut, and a bitch. She fucked your grandmother and your grandfather at the same time. Kali is willing to sexually/spiritually ravish all would-be lovers: man, woman and child.”
Another similar poem reads thus:
Kali, my Bitch-Slut-Whore, fuckest Thou my Dad and Gran, great Kinky Tart, would Thou do as much for I, Thy son.
Therefore, the current conception of Goddess Kali among many people in the west is not only that of a blood-lusting monster or a mother with a penis but also as one who masturbates with an oversized dildo and is a complete slut who sleeps with everybody.
These highly sexual and perverse interpretations of Goddess Kali is completely alien to Hindu philosophy and iconography.
Mother Kali in Hindu tradition
The name Kali which is actually pronounced as “kAli”, is taken from the root word “kaala” which can either mean time or darkness. Time denotes motion as time is always in motion. The time has no beginning. It is always changing. In fact, the whole universe and all its objects are always in the motion driven by time. The objects, take birth, grow in size, decay and finally die. This whole process is driven by time. And Kali is one who is the essence of “time”, who is “time” herself.
Therefore, it is Kali who creates, controls, and destroys the Universe. She is called as “Adya-the oldest or the first” who is the source of all changes, all manifestations. The other meaning of the term “Darkness” or “Black” also denotes the same meaning.
Just as Black color denotes an absorption of all colors in science, Kali represents a state wherein the whole universe lies absorbed in an Unmanifested seed state (also called as Mula-prakriti). Therefore, as the embodiment of time, she is the creator and sustainer of the universe, and as an embodiment of darkness, she denotes the dissolution of the Universe.
She can be considered as equivalent to Samkhyan Prakriti and Vedantic Maya. Therefore, her name or her color which is “Black” does not denote that she is a “monster”.
Now coming to her iconographic details, she is shown as having her tongue lolling out with blood dripping from her mouth. She is usually depicted as having four hands, with one holding a sword, another a severed head, the other two hands are in the mudras of granting blessings and grant fearlessness, or sometimes hold objects like lotus or a bowl. She is naked with disheveled hairs and is usually shown in the backdrop of a Samshaan (cremation ground). She wears a garland of skulls around her neck and a skirt made of severed hands.
Now, let us look at what these means. A garment is a covering draped on the body. The whole cosmos can be understood as a cosmic body of Kali. There is nothing outside it. Therefore, she is without a garment, without a covering. Hence, she is naked. Garment can also represent the limitation of “rupa/form”. The manifestation of various objects is nothing but a manifestation of nama (name) and rupa (form). But, Kali being the unmanifested source has no “rupa” and hence is naked. The garment may also denote the three gunas i.e. Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas, that is worn by Atman (Self) to become manifest as universe. Kali who is non-different from Atman in its absolute state, is without the gunas and hence naked. Therefore, there is no sexuality involved in her depiction as being naked.
The blood dripping from her mouth and her apparent blood-lust depicts a very specific spiritual process of “Rakta-Shuddi”, the purification of the blood. Blood is the most important carrier of the Prana (vital force) in the physical body. The purification of the Prana and hence of the blood is very important in Kundalini yoga. Goddess Kali is the one who purifies the Prana. Her drinking of blood denotes this purification of blood and vital force. This drinking of blood can also mean the absorption of the individual vital forces into herself. That is, she liberates a person from bondage to physical body and helps him to merge his subtle body into hers, thereby attaining spiritual union with her.
The severed head indicates the ego of the individuals that is afflicted with lust, anger, delusion and other passions of the mind. The sword is used to cut this unpurified ego. Goddess Kali is the one who grants purification of the mind by cutting of the limited ego that is afflicted with mental passions called “arishdvarga”. The hands showing boon and a sign of fearlessness needs no further explanation.
The severed hands represent Karmas or actions. “Hands” are one of the organs of actions and hence is used as a symbol for “Karmas”. She wears a skirt of severed hands, because it is she alone who is able to severe our karmas, and make us free of their bondage. She helps the spiritual practitioners to move towards Moksha (liberation), by cutting their Karmas one by one.
The garland of severed heads are sometimes depicted as being 51 in numbers that depict the 51 letters of Sanskrit and hence the whole domain of speech and knowledge. The garland of skulls may also denote that a person has to undergo hundreds of lives in various bodies before he could attain Moksha. The disheveled hair denote that she is not bound by the rules of human society.
She is usually depicted as having one of her legs on the chest of Lord Shiva who lies on the ground in a static state. This represents the Purusha-Prakriti aspect of Samkhya. Shiva is static absolute Brahman, Kali is the power of this Brahman to have motion. Therefore, Shiva is lying without movement and Kali is standing or dancing on him.
In some depictions, especially with respect to forms like Chinnamasta, the Shakti is shown as being in a sexual union with Shiva who is lying static on the ground. The imagery is a direct depiction of the cosmic union of Purusha and Prakriti. The fact that Brahman and his power are non-different is being depicted in this imagery. The sexual union being the physical imitation of the cosmic union, the imagery aims to highlight the comic and spiritual union through sexual union. Further, in certain tantrika sadhanas (tantrika practices), the sexual energy is used to attain a spiritual union.
But, these nuances are either missed or deliberately ignored in the western commentary on Hinduism. Their understanding and interpretation of Goddess Kali is completely alien to Hindu world-view. In fact, the depictions of Kali as monstrous mother with a penis or as a whore can be easily branded as blasphemous if such a concept of blasphemy had been present in Hinduism.
This freedom of expression without concepts like blasphemy is being misused by certain quarters of western academia, media, and entertainment industry. The tantrika philosophy and spirituality is dismissed as superstition and in their place, perverse, incorrect, and non-existent meanings are being attached to Goddess Kali and other Hindu deities and symbols.
But, all is not lost.
Every cloud has a silver lining
There are many authors and teachers in the west who have understood Hinduism and Hindu traditions in depth. Their writings and teachings are in conformity with the Hindu philosophy. For example, books by authors like David Frawley and Dr. Robert Svoboda are very thorough and shed new light on ancient teachings.
Just yesterday, a huge image of Mother Kali was projected on the face of the Empire State Building. It was part of a display by filmmaker Louie Psihoyos and his team Projecting Change to create awareness about wildlife extinction. The display included projection of a large number of endangered animals and at the end of it the image of Mother Kali was depicted.
Regarding the event, this article says: “This Kali apparition over Manhattan may be our last warning. Fierce protectress of truth, she tells it like it is, she beckons us to dive into the dark, to face the stark reality of the global ecological crisis upon us, and to let heartbreak be the ground from which we awaken and serve.”
It further adds: “It is time to get our Kali on inside and out; to cut off the head and commit to the heart on all levels. So many of us are shedding our false selves, empty certainties and small lives, and no matter how much we wish for the safety of the old, the more desperately we hold on, the hotter the fires of the Real.”
The degraded treatment accorded to women in the medieval age, has been the tipping point in brandishing Hinduism as a dogmatic and highly patriarchal religion.
Our history books are replete with references of women being forced to partake in Sati (self-immolation), cases of wicked oppression by the male gender, countless crude examples of coercion into child marriage, etc., among a myriad of other social evils that persisted during the middle age.
When a student of history is outrightly subjected to such a one-sided view of the Hindu society (which is how they are taught), it becomes quite natural for him/her to start visualizing Sanatana-Dharma or the eternal religion as being synonymous with a degraded version of theism, practiced by men of warped intelligence.
The propaganda levelled against Hinduism, of it being inherently oppressive towards the fairer sex, is meant to turn people against the true essence of Hinduism.
Such a manipulated notion paints a very dogged image of Hinduism; highly contrary to how it is in its unadulterated form.
A thorough understanding of the ancient Vedic texts would reveal a completely different view of women as propounded in the scholarly works of the modern historians.
When Divinity finds itself naked and incomplete without the female aspect of the Divine, it speaks volumes about the importance that is stressed upon womanhood in Hinduism.
Krishna is approached through his eternal consort Radha, Ram through Sita, Shiva through Parvati and so is the case with every spiritual form.
The whole school of Neo-Vedanta, established by Ramakrishna Paramhamsa and popularized by Swami Vivekananda, greatly emphasises the worship of Kali as ‘the Mother’.
The conception that women were denied access to education in the Vedic age is utterly farcical. Several hymns of the Vedic canon have been composed by women such as Maitrayi, Ghose and Vak.
The composition of such highly sophisticated stanzas could not have been formulated unless the women were well-educated and knowledgeable.
Another social evil attributed to a ‘superstitious’ Hinduism, is the propagation of coerced child marriage. The Rig Veda, the oldest of the living Vedas, quashes such an argument in totum.
“An unmarried learned daughter should be married to a bridegroom who, like her, is learned. Never think of giving in marriage a daughter of very young age.” (Rig-Veda 55:16)
The above statement makes it amply clear, that women, like men, were equally educated and learned and were married after reaching nubility.
The Vedic religion is also sometimes dubbed as ‘backward’ and ‘illiberal’ by arguments like women were bound within the realm of their paternal house, and were forced to live in a kind of social slavery.
On the contrary, young men and women were given unrestricted freedom to intermingle with each other. Samsanas, traditional equivalent of carnivals, used to be organized from time to time, allowing people from both genders to interact and participate in merry-making. And, many women chose their life partner from such social gatherings.
Moreover, there are considerable allusions to women marrying in older age. For instance, the female seer Ghosa married at a late age to the sage Kaksivan.
Such ennobling examples of freedom of choice in marriage, apart from invalidating Western notions of Hindus being caught in the web of ‘arranged marriage’, clearly highlight the maturity level which characterized the ancient Vedic religion.
The precept of dowry is also completely misunderstood by the predisposed minds famished under the tutelage of distorted history books.
Dowry was not a sum of money on which the transactional deal of women was based. In stark contrast, it was a parting gift that the woman carried with her to the new house, having sole preserve of its rightful use.
A widowed women, in the Vedic times, were given much affection and warmth. She had the right, or rather, the freedom to remarry. This can be corroborated by the following verse from the Rig-Veda(X, 18.8)
“Rise up woman thou art lying by one whose life is gone, come to the world of the living, away from thy husband, and become the wife of him who holds thy hand and is willing to marry thee.”
While occupying a supreme position in the Vedic civilization, women were honoured and respected, not equally, but in a highly lofty fashion.
Turning back the pages of Vedas can indeed usher in a new era of feminism, one which is much more rooted in spiritual wisdom.
Rome, despite being the highest seat of Christianity, is a centre of confluence between several cultures and religions. Walking around the streets one can admire an impressive variety of nationalities. While some are tourists, others are emigrants who migrated from their respective countries for different reasons.
In this huge “melting pot” religions do not represent an exception.
Especially in Rome people from different faiths including Christians, Muslims, Hindus have learned to live in harmony. Hinduism, thanks to its essence, is the religion that better adapts to this (inevitable) coexistence. According to the latest regional statistics, around seven thousand Indians live in the Italian capital with a regular permission.
The question, however, is: How do Indians feel about the privations that they are subjected to as a foreign faith while trying to “find a place” in a land so strongly influenced by Christianity?
What is their approach towards this new reality?”
The “Temple of Kalimandir”, one of the most important sacred places dedicated to the celebration of Shiva and Kali, is a perfect starting point to decipher crucial answers for these questions. Located in the middle of district Casal Lumbroso and surrounded by an amusing green garden, the temple stands out as an authentic meeting point for pilgrims from different religions.
The temple was constructed by Yogi Krishnanath, an Italian academic specialized in Hinduism who was moved by the passion for this ancient religion, and subsequently dedicated his life to a humanitarian mission.
Around the temple, the devotees of different religions can aggregate and share a common place while spending a good time between delectable dishes and pleasing songs, and learn to live together in harmony. The temple is open to believers in every kind of God. Indians of all ages are happy to share stories about their everyday life in a country characterized by the predominance of the Christian religion.
“Episodes of religious intolerance or discrimination against Indians perpetrated by Christians are rare. There is a mutual respect between us. Unfortunately, I can not say the same about Muslims.” a smiling middle aged man called Vir said.
In fact, some times the coexistence between Muslims and Hindus becomes so complicated, motivated mainly by historical reasons and fueled by alcohol related abuse and mockeries, that fights break out in the streets.
A young Indian woman called Amita opened my eyes to the main problems that emigrants face while trying to find their place in a country as diverse as Italy.
“I would love to turn my illegal-immigrant status into a regular one, in order to obtain the same rights and perform the same duties as other citizens. I work as maid in an Italian family, but do not have a regular contract”, Amita said.
In this context, the Italian bureaucracy demonstrates an abysmal gap. The process to obtain the residency permit is hard and long, consisting of “Hellish” procedures to comply with and countless documents to fill in. The consequence is that, while honest Italians try to obtain regular permission for their workers, often without succeeding, the Italian criminals take advantage of the situation.
Newspapers abound with stories of “Mafiosi groups” or “individuals” (I am not brave enough to define them, but in essence they use their privileged position against a desperate human being asking for help) who try to rent illegal hovels or sell fake residency permits.
The last documented episode dates back to March last year when three Italian brothers built a rent-racket which guaranteed six hundred euros a month for every decadent and narrow hovel that they possessed. Charges were made against the criminal association by some Indians who were being oppressed by criminals.
Two years ago, the Roman police arrested a middle-aged Italian crook for swindling an Indian woman for seven thousand euros. The man was offering fake work certification which is required to obtain a regular permit, in return for the money.
According to the latest regional statistics, around seven thousand Indians possess a residency permit in the city of Rome. Most of them work in the restaurant industry preparing mouth-watering dishes which are highly appreciated in Italy.
On a fine sunny day, I had the opportunity to report one among the thousand testimonies of peaceful coexistence between Christians and Hindus.
“We are neighbors in the quarter “Esquilino”, one of the most intercultural zones in the capital, but first of all we are friends”, reported a refined Italian lady arm-in-arm with a smiling Indian woman.
“I am Christian and she is Hindu, but the differences should not present reasons for hate and discrimination. On the contrary we should approach “the other” person with an open mind and a healthy attitude”, she exclaimed.
I learned a lot about Indian culture and religion from Leela’s words. I cannot explain with better words the essence of the word “cohabitation”. While some Italian politics, based on cliché and stereotypes, confound ignorant people in order to foment “hate” towards the other nationality, such instances demonstrate the complete irrationality of debates which end with the exaltation of discrimination.
Stories like these demonstrate the propensity of mankind to embrace and respect “strangers”. In some cases the embrace flows into a mutual exchange of knowledge.
A complete and peaceful coexistence can materialize by blending different cultures with the Italian way of life.